Brian Ross of ABC News has tracked down a college professor, Dave Gilbert, from Southern Illinois University, in order to investigate Gilbert's claim that the electronics could possibly be to blame for the cases of sudden acceleration in modern Toyota vehicles.
According to automotive professor Gilbert, there is a flaw in Toyota's design that allows particular short circuits that could be caused by corrosion, moisture or manufacturing imperfections. In order to recreate the issues for ABC News, however, Gilbert utilized an external bypass system that he says will recreate conditions otherwise possible without any outside devices.
"The system is fallible, in fact, it's got some really troubling design strategies that are employed by Toyota that appear to be outside the norm [of the auto industry]. And their system clearly has a design strategy that has a very slim margin of safety," said Sean Kane, safety advocate from Safety Research and Strategies. Kane was responsible for first spotting the pattern of so-called "runaway Toyotas" from NHTSA complaints.
Gilbert first contacted senior Toyota engineers in California about these claims last week, and says they were surprised at his claim. Toyota at first believed that what Gilbert described would not produce any unintended acceleration. Toyota also clarified that if a short ever were to occur, the dashboard would light up and indicate an issue - contrary to Gilbert's findings in which no dash lights were illuminated, and no DTC error codes were produced.
Gilbert has so far been able to replicate the short-induced unintended sudden acceleration on a Lexus, Toyota Tundra, Avalon and on a Matrix.
"This is a dangerous condition, it is not fail safe, " said Gilbert.
Gilbert also went on to explain that he has attempted to recreate the same short with vehicles made by other manufacturers as well, as a basis for comparison, and found that other makes did not experience the unintended sudden acceleration.
"Other vehicle manufacturers have gone to great extremes [to prevent the problem he found on Toyotas]," he said. His tests on GM cars did not find a similar flaw, he said, "not even close."
Toyota has since released an official press release following the ABC News investigation, saying that based on the footage seen on ABC News, Toyota believes what Gilbert displayed is different than they first understood. Toyota has invited both Professor Gilbert and ABC News to bring the Avalon in question to Toyota for further testing.
"Toyota welcomes the opportunity to evaluate the Toyota Avalon shown in today's story and the method by which Mr. Gilbert allegedly caused the vehicle to accelerate unintentionally. We welcome the attendance of ABC News at any such evaluation of this vehicle and Mr. Gilbert's testing, " Toyota announced in a press release.
Both Professor Gilbert and Sean Kane are scheduled to speak in front of the House committee on Tuesday, February 23, 2010.
1. 'Toyota's statement in regard...' view
2. 'Expert: Electronic design flaw...' view